Last Updated on February 25, 2022 by Allison Price
My Paint mare, who has pink skin, gets sunburnt in the summer. She develops wrinkles on her neck and shoulders that look like an elephant. She can become hot and sensitive even when she is kept inside during the day. What is the relationship between photosensitivity and sunburn? This is usually caused by an allergic reaction to food that horses eat. This could be caused by what plants?– Barbara Gainesville, Florida
A.Sunburn is possible on any area of pink (nonpigmented), horse skin. Although the hair coat protects the skin, there is very little hair around the eyes and at the ends of the nose. Another concern is the possibility of skin cancer squamous cells carcinoma, which can be extremely aggressive and difficult to treat.
Florida recommends sun protection for horses with pale skin. A drop nose piece is a good choice for a fly mask. Many fly masks come with a UV protection label. I recommend that you buy the one with the highest UV protection and put it on your horse whenever it is sunny or cloudy. You can also buy zinc oxide sunscreen lotion at your local drugstore, but ensure it is waterproof. It might be necessary to apply it again daily or more frequently.
There should be enough hair around the neck and shoulder area to protect it. If your horse has a fly bite allergy, she may rub the hair off and expose her skin to the sunlight. For horses with no hair, you might consider using lightweight fly sheets to protect them from the sun.
Photosensitization may occur if your horse is eating poisonous plant (e.g. Crotalaria). Photosensitization by poisonous plants can occur in the neck and shoulders.
orange.ifas.ufl.edu has photos and information on poisonous/toxic plants in Florida. You can also ask your county extension agent to walk your pastures and identify toxic plants.
Assess the root cause of your horse’s problems. Your veterinarian should examine your horse and determine the root cause. Then, start treating it.